Mahābhārata – Episode 81 – Śalya Becomes the Commander; Duryodhana Escapes

This article is part 81 of 112 in the series Mahābhārata


After Karṇa’s death, Kṛpācārya suggested to Duryodhana that they could enter a treaty of peace with the Pāṇḍavas. Duryodhana, however, refused to do so and decided to go ahead with the war. He appointed Śalya as the commander-in-chief of the Kaurava forces. On the following day, Śalya organized the Kaurava army in the form of a Sarvatobhadra-vyūha and stood at its helm. Kṛtavarma took a place to his left, Kṛpācārya on the right, and Aśvatthāma stood behind him. Duryodhana was in the middle of these heroes.

As per Kṛṣṇa’s suggestion, Yudhiṣṭhira, who had taken up the post of the commander-in-chief of the Pāṇḍava army attacked Śalya. It was decided that Arjuna was to fight Kṛtavarma and Bhīma was to face Kṛpācārya. That was the eighteenth day of the Mahābhārata war. During the course of the day’s battle, Nakula killed Karṇa’s sons – Citrasena, Suśarmā, and Satyasena. Śalya was surrounded on all the four sides by Bhīma, Sātyaki, Nakula, and Sahadeva. They aided Yudhiṣṭhira and shot arrows at the enemy. Yudhiṣṭhira invoked the Śaktyāyudha and hurled it towards Śalya. Blood oozed out of Śalya’s eyes, ears, and mouth and the old man fell dead off his chariot.

As the Kaurava army fled with the death of its commander-in-chief, Duryodhana filled them with courage, held the reigns and led them back to battle. However, Arjuna’s display of valour made Duryodhana’s efforts futile. Sātyaki killed Sālva and defeated Kṛtavarma. Dhṛṣṭadyumna defeated Duryodhana and chased him away from the battlefield. As Duryodhana vanished from the battlefield, Kṛpācārya, Kṛtavarma, and Aśvatthāma went looking for him.

Back at the battlefield, Dhṛṣṭadyumna continued to vanquish Duryodhana’s forces. Bhīma eliminated the brothers of Duryodhana who were still alive. Sahadeva killed Śakuni and Ulūka. Once Śakuni fell, his aides pounced upon Sahadeva. Arjuna and Bhīma came to his support and defeated them all. In the battle that day, most of the Kaurava army was destroyed. Yet Duryodhana gathered the remaining men and ordered them to kill the Pāṇḍavas along with Dhṛṣṭadyumna. His men who left on the task as per Duryodhana’s command were killed in no time. In this manner, the eleven akṣauhinīs on the Kaurava side and the thousand allied kings were all dead and Duryodhana was left alone. He looked all around him and he felt he was in a deep void. There was no one to fight on his side. On the opposite faction, however, the Pāṇḍavas rejoiced with great fervour. He then lost his mettle and stepped back. A person who was the head of eleven akṣauhinīs only a few days earlier, was now left with no aides or chariot; his horses had also fallen down dead. So he went ahead alone with his mace and walked towards the east. He came across a body of water there and dived into it as he was skilled at jalasthambana. Sañjaya, who learnt about this intimated the same to Aśvatthāma, Kṛpācārya, and Kṛtavarma. They went to the lake and called out: “O King! Come out! Fight the war! We are with you. If you win, you can rule the kingdom, if not, you’ll go to the heavens. They too have had heavy losses on their side. The remaining ones are injured. Therefore, if we, along with you go and attack them, they won’t be able to retaliate.” They tried to motivate him with these words.

Duryodhana said, “With so many of them dead, it is my fortune that the three of you have survived and are before my eyes. Alright, let us fight and be victorious. You and I – all of us are fatigued and the Pāṇḍavas are full of vigour. Therefore, I don’t prefer to fight right now. This is not the time for us to display valour. Let us rest this night. I’ll join you tomorrow for the war.”

Aśvatthāma didn’t find his proposal agreeable. “Rise up, Duryodhana! We will fight! I’ll take a vow that I’ll eliminate the Somakas today, at any cost. I will not take off this armour without defeating the Pāñcālas.”

A few hunters, hiding behind foliage nearby, overheard this conversation. They had come there as a routine to fetch meat for Bhīma. As they were fatigued and thirsty during their errand, they had come to the lake to sip water. The conversation between Aśvatthāma and Duryodhana caught their ears and they had remained there out of curiosity.  Once they heard the entire conversation, they expectantly came to the Pāṇḍavas thinking that Bhīmasena might reward them with some money if they told him what they had heard. By then, the Pāṇḍavas who weren’t able to spot Duryodhana in the battlefield had set out spies to look for him. The spies, however, weren’t able to find him anywhere and had come back with no information. As the Pāṇḍavas were distressed that they had not been able to do anything about Duryodhana, the only surviving person on the Kaurava side, they heard from the hunters that he was hiding in a lake. The Pāṇḍavas, under the leadership of Kṛṣṇa went to the lake along with their remaining army.

Hearing them approaching, Kṛtavarma said, “The Pāṇḍavas seem to be heading in this direction with great excitement. It is better we take leave now. Please permit us!” They left the place with these words and seated themselves below a banyan tree at a distance. Duryodhana remained under water by using his skill of jalasthambana.

As soon as the Pāṇḍavas neared the lake called Dvaipāyana, Dharmarāja told Kṛṣṇa, “Look at this māyāvī! He has used magical spells and mantras and has hid himself in the waters. He thinks that no human can harm him in his current state. He is greatly skilled at cheating others. Yet, we shall not spare him!”

Kṛṣṇa replied, “A māyāvī like him should be tackled with māyā – magic must get magic as its reply! Tit for tat is the best way to work with such people. This is the manner in which Indra vanquished the demons!”

Yudhiṣṭhira called out to Duryodhana who was in the waters – “You have killed the kṣatriyas and everyone belonging to your family. And now you plan to hide in the waters? Come out and fight us! Where have your ego and self-respect disappeared? With you sleeping peacefully in cold water, I feel that all the laudation that you get in your court is false and you are no great hero. Have you forgotten that you are born to a kṣatriya family and to the Kuru clan in particular? Backing out from the battlefield is inevitable and it will stop you from reaching the heavens. If you would like to follow the kṣatriya dharma, give up your love for life! Come out, fight us and if victorious, you will get to enjoy your vast kingdom. If not, we will vanquish you in the battle!”

Hearing his words, Duryodhana replied from within the waters – “It is not surprising if animals get scared. I have not come here being scared for my life. I lost my chariot, arrows, quiver, charioteer, and everything that I might have needed on the battlefield. I have come here only to relax for a while. Your men and you may rest for some time – by then, I will come out and fight you all!”

Yudhishitra said, “Yes! We have relaxed and we headed out looking for you only after having rested! Come out now! Win over us and get your kingdom. If not, die and reach the heavens!”

“Why do I need the kingdom now, anyway? I have lost all my brothers, who were like gems. I have lost the best of the kṣatriyas who were on my side. Should I still desire to have the kingdom? Droṇa and Karṇa are no more and Bhīṣma sleeps on the bed of arrows – Why do I need a kingdom now? Let that kingdom remain with you! What kind of a king would want to rule the kingdom all alone? Do you think a person like me will continue to live after having lost all my relatives and having surrendered my kingdom to you? I will wear deer-skin and retire to the forest. You go, enjoy the entire kingdom for yourself!”

Yudhiṣṭhira said, “Stop grumbling from within the waters! Come out! Even if you offer me the entire kingdom, I shall not take it from you! It is not dharma for a kṣatriya to receive a dāna. I shall win over the kingdom by defeating you in the war. If you really wanted to give away your kingdom, you could have done so long ago – we even pleaded you to do so! Why didn’t you do that back then? You declared that you will not even spare a piece of land as tiny as a needle’s tip! What kind of a king gives up his kingdom when instigated to fight a war? Have you planned to live after giving up your kingdom? We will not spare you in this manner! If both of us continue to live, people will always wonder who is going to win and who will lose. You will need to surrender your breath to us, as a consequence of all the harm you tried to impend upon us! You will do good only by fighting the war!”

To be continued.

This is an English translation of Prof. A R Krishna Shastri’s Kannada classic Vacanabhārata by Arjun Bharadwaj and Hari Ravikumar published in a serialized form.

The original Kannada version of Vacanabhārata is available for free online reading here. To read other works of Prof. Krishna Shastri, click here.



Prof. A R Krishna Sastri was a journalist, scholar, polyglot, and a pioneer of the modern Kannada renaissance, who founded the literary journal Prabuddha Karnāṭaka. His Vacana-bhārata and Kathāmṛta are classics of Kannada literature while his Saṃskṛta-nāṭaka and Bankimacandra are of unrivalled scholarship.



Arjun is a writer, translator, engineer, and enjoys composing poems. He is well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, English, Greek, and German languages. His research interests lie in comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature. He has deep interest in the theatre arts and music. Arjun has (co-) translated the works of AR Krishna Shastri, DV Gundappa, Dr. SL Bhyrappa, Dr. SR Ramaswamy and Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh


Hari is a writer, translator, editor, violinist, and designer with a deep interest in Vedanta, education pedagogy design, literature, and films. He has (co-)written/translated and (co-)edited 25+ books, mostly related to Indian culture and philosophy. He serves on the advisory board of a few educational institutions.

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